Wakayama: Unique Laughter Festival Led by Man in Clown-Like Makeup

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A bellwether shouts, “Laugh! Laugh!” during the Niu Festival in Hidakagawa, Wakayama Prefecture, on Oct. 8.

HIDAKAGAWA, Wakayama — A unique traditional festival took place in early October at Niu Shrine in Hidakagawa, Wakayama Prefecture, with a man in clown-like makeup shouting “Laugh! Laugh!” as he led a float.

The Niu Festival’s origins come from a folk tale about Niutsu Hime no Mikoto, a deity revered at the shrine. The villagers cheered up the deity by telling her, “Laugh! Laugh!” when she was in low spirits after oversleeping and arriving late for a gathering of deities in Izumo, Shimane Prefecture.

Clad in white face powder, the man leading the float is referred to as the bellwether. He also wears a red hood and flashy costume, with the kanji character for “laugh” written in vermilion on his cheeks.

At this year’s festival held on Oct. 8, the bellwether chanted, “Life is fun, full of fun. Laugh! Laugh!” as festival participants then burst into laughter while holding masu wooden cups holding skewered farm goods. The sight made onlookers smile as well.

The festival was held for the first time in four years after being canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m happy to see everyone smile for the first time in a while,” said Koji Yoshida, 44, who played the role of the bellwether.